Week Three – Lesson Three – Loneliness and Depression
Week Three – Lesson Three – Loneliness and Depression
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In the time since Donna passed, I have touched a dimension of loneliness and depression that I had not experienced earlier.
In my professional life there were extended periods as when I lived alone in Beirut during a civil war and Donna and the children were in Athens, or when I roamed the streets of Europe on a sensitive operation only able to jot an occasional note from a distant city. In both instances, I experienced loneliness.
However, without her presence now, my voice seems caught in an endless tunnel and she is not at the end of it; I am watching a brilliant sunset and turn to share it with her but she’s not there; I come across a shared experience and realize that it is frozen in a past that no longer exists.
Make no mistake, I am able to disguise this longing for her company even among my closest friends, though my grown children might suspect otherwise.
This loneliness is difficult to define, easier to describe.
The sole witness to the depth of this loneliness is an observer who is positioned just beyond my shoulder. He doesn’t comment much, but shows compassion in his intent glance; sometimes I feel his touch.
This sense of loneliness has refashioned me. I prize relationship and even risk loss again, and again. I am quieter, more reflective – more present – in the present.
Despite my best predictive powers, I cannot anticipate when the next wave of loneliness will wash over me.
I value as I have never valued previously laughter, joy, communion with friends and family.
We will explore this debilitating sense of loneliness and some suggestions as to how to recover, even gain sustaining strength in the process.
Now depression was something new to me – at least in the intensity I experienced.
“What’s it all about, Alfie?” – from a film of many years ago – was a question that I kept repeating under my breath, as if knowing the answer would relieve me and calm me like no prescription drug could.
We will also investigate depression – two powerful companions – loneliness and depression – that accompany us on this path to healing.
But before we go further, allow me to change the mood with a romantic poem, accepting that at first reading you might not interpret it as such.
First a footnote of sorts – Chelsea Hotel N.Y.C is a poem I wrote in the shadows as loneliness gripped me, almost unaware soon after an affair of the heart ended.
For background, the Chelsea Hotel was once the residence of several prominent authors – it was a place of culture and free artistic expression; but that was forty years ago.
Now, it is rundown and when I stayed there over ten years ago for nostalgia reasons, I propped a chair against the doorknob for security, such was the clientele.
Incidentally, this was the first time I had to resort to this precaution, though I traveled in some rather seamy regions of the world.
See if you can catch the promptings of my soul in this poem and perhaps even the emerging loneliness as I waited for my once intimate partner to appear.
Note that in the process of composing the poem – and in rereading it from time to time – I connect with the creative spark that serves as a healing resource.
“Chelsea Hotel, N.Y.”
Dim drab once grand
He waits for her
A gloomy corridor.
He is not heard –
A call for boldness,
Instead drear light
Dims further – silence;
His vision undiminished,
He waits – patient,
HIs spirit refreshed,
Undaunted by sterile mentors
Preaching fear fire,
While coveting love.
In this lesson I will also share some rules to follow and exercises to hasten your recovery.
Part One – Embrace Loneliness
Below you will find a list that depicts the various agents of loneliness. Perhaps, these descriptors will help you give voice to what loneliness means to you beyond a dictionary definition.
Consider each offering as a prompt to unmask the force of loneliness and guide you to a healing path.
Linger for a moment or longer with each selection.
Insert the list in your journal and jot down a few words alongside each. You might want to return to your notes later.
Loneliness reminds of –
- Soul misplaced;
- Branch severed;
- Faithful witness;
- Solace sought;
- Blossom cut;
- Silent nods;
- Gentle call;
- Laughter muted;
- Listener absent;
- Regrets recalled;
- Silence endless;
- Joy lilting;
- Storms weathered;
- Tears mutual;
- Surprise adventures;
- Dance forgotten;
- Touch ministered;
- Bread broken;
- Words unspoken;
- Heart plunge;
- Farewell final;
- Mountains climbed;
- Love absent;
- Pillow shared;
- Forgiveness granted;
- Sadness full;
- Dawn rising;
- Sun setting;
- Youth spent;
- Confidence shared;
- Dreams lost;
- Age burdens;
- Trust restored;
- Prayers groaned;
- Hope embers;
- Vision dims;
- Path lost
Let me offer a few examples of my own as a guide to your own reflections.
#1 Soul misplaced caused me to recall how my very soul consciousness was in question with the wrenching loss of my spouse.
For so long our souls seemed intertwined in a special love relationship.
With her death, I was alone, and yes – lonely.
It wasn’t long before I began to perceive my own soul presence and strength that were distinct from my soul mate of so many years.
#16 Dance forgotten prompted me to reflect upon life beyond a dance floor with my spouse that I sorely missed.
I thought back on the music, rhythm, spontaneity, joy of the dance with my spouse; reviewed in my mind and heart how I learned those first steps and began to wonder if, actually became hopeful that, I could learn new steps more suited to my present circumstances.
Now, it is your turn to take each of the phrases below in whatever order you decide.
First reflect on where you are now in your loneliness with each and then jot down in your journal over the next week – or longer – what prompts you now – even if limited to a couple of words that you might return to later.
Concluding this part of the lesson, take a moment and listen to Nina Simone’s classic I Get Along Without You Very Well. Cut and paste the following link.
Part Two – What about Depression?
While I never considered myself the last of the gypsy dancers – an expression I first heard used by a senior CIA officer describing a less than colorful colleague – I had rarely experienced the depth of depression that I did and sometimes still do since my loss.
Depression can hit me when I am alone writing, walking on the beach at dawn, coming upon a reminder of something that was.
I can even encounter depression in a crowd of cheery folks at a reception or celebration.
It is impossible to anticipate when depression will pop in to my consciousness.
Depression can surprise me while I am preparing a solitary meal as described in the poem below inspired by the guitarist, Christopher Parkening , and his recording in tribute to the classical guitarist Segovia.
Can you hear
The water boil,
A tribute to
The vent fan
On the stove,
Recalling in pause
Heartfelt words of
Undying love –
Still-born it seems
For me tonight –
As water boils
Amidst a tribute to
How do I deal with depression – whenever or wherever he (I can’t imagine depression is a she!) appears?
I have learned to befriend him. Yes, befriend him.
I even named him. He is Killian to me – a name some of you might recognize as that of an Irish amber lager. Indeed, he is my friend because he guides me to where I can address my fears directly.
So what are some of those fears that would prefer to remain hidden to haunt me?
Fear of life lived alone? Fear of the future and diminished physical and mental faculties? Fear of declining finances?
You name it; Killian has represented me to them all, but for good purpose and for my good spiritual, mental, and physical health.
Killian reminds me over and over again to remain in the present and not to be anxious about a future that doesn’t exist.
He hauls before me ghosts of the past and encourages me to admonish them – ban them to the realm of past illusion.
He points out to me – less frequently now as I have listened intently for years – that the ego would continue, if I allowed it, to buffet me until it reestablishes its dominion in the tumult caused by my loss and grief.
So I ask Killian what should I do, and he responds immediately,
Bring the fear of inadequacy into the light of your strength. Reflect upon who you are, from where you came, and where you are going. Accept God’s will in all aspects of your life and remember that everything is on schedule. And just when you feel lowest, reach out and help someone in need.
Spend a moment and consider that depression might be a most unexpected friend. Make some notes in your journal on what thoughts this prompts.
Part Three – Accepting Mortality
In loss and grief we are reminded of our mortality.
Discussing mortality is a subject, like politics and religion, we should probably avoid at social gatherings.
Yet, mortality – death – is such an intriguing subject and is an integral element affecting our experience in loneliness and depression.
Consider the following experiences and the Rules suggested to be gleaned from each.
Rule I – Value the Present Moment
This practice was especially important for him during the years combating the occupying Soviets in Afghanistan; and reminded him that death awaits us all.
The present is precious, no matter how distracted we become.
Are you able to be still and describe what the present moment means to you?
Rule 2 – Cultivate Courage
During a short stopover in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on my way to Kabul, on an impulse, I ventured from a broad avenue into the entrance of a Muslim cemetery with a crescent moon on the sign outside.
The gravestones were adorned with images of the deceased taken from photos of happier times. The span of years carved on each stone, allowed me to speculate on whether the deceased had been a military man. Perhaps he had fallen in Afghanistan or in Chechnya to the mujahadeen, or in Uzbekistan fighting for the government against the insurgents that sought to overturn the established order.
While I was sitting on a wooden bench in the cemetery, jotting notes in my journal, a man of about forty years old came into view, thirty feet distant across some gravestones.
He had a dusky complexion. I did not look directly at him, allowing him the privacy he sought.
He moved a bench aside so that he could kneel and prostrate himself in prayer before a particular headstone. I could hear his voice softly intone a prayer, most likely verses from the Koran.
When he finished I raised my eyes and saw him wipe tears from his cheeks. As he passed me he put his hand across his heart in greeting —“Salaam Aleikum” (God is great).
I returned the salutation.
It was no surprise to me that in grief we gain the courage to confront the unthinkable.
What is unthinkable to you?
Have you been able to generate the courage to confront the unthinkable; if not, what is keeping you?
Rule 3 – Forge Community
During a time of grieving, it is quite natural to examine one’s own mortality, especially as it relates to those one has lost and most importantly to relationships with those whom the odds favor will outlive – or is it – outlast us.
Such reflections prod us to be present and curtail regrets about how fast time is passing or has passed.
This might be a good time to identify companions who can shed tears in personal grief and almost in the same moment announce, God is great!
Do any such individuals come to mind? Are they accessible?
Rule 4 – Stay in the Game
Acceptance of one’s circumstances, one’s mortality, also demands that we stay engaged in the game of life.
Avoid tossing your cards in early, by assuming that you know the ending, though you follow the outcome and are quick to add I would have won as you watch from the sidelines.
Assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Poland, I used to play poker with a fellow from Georgia.
Whenever a player folded his hand early, and then proclaimed at the end, “If I had remained in the game, I would have won,” my friend would proclaim, “If a frog had wings, it would fly!”
How is your “poker?”
Rule 5 – Never Despair
A close friend who was to die of cancer six months later asked me one day in a sad moment, “Terry, how many Christmases do any of us have left to celebrate?”
Without pause I responded, “That isn’t the question, but rather, ‘How many lattes will we share together?”
We shared one each day thereafter until the day he passed on.
How many lattes fill your life?
As we close, cut and paste the link and listen to Vengelis’ Chariots of Fire.
Part Four – Indecision
Matthiesen was in search of a dwindling population of snow leopards and later wrote a well received book entitled appropriately, The Snow Leopard.
In the book he tells of an encounter with an elderly, arthritic, Tibetan monk, a hermit, who had been living for years in isolation atop a precipice in the western Himalayas – young monks delivering food to this monk who was now incapacitated.
Matthiesen had a question for the monk that he asked his interpreter to translate for the monk to answer. Reluctant at first the interpreter finally gathered his courage and asked him how he found life.
Matthiesen wrote the following:
And this holy man of great directness and simplicity, big white teeth shining, laughs out loud in an infectious way at the question. Indicating his twisted legs without a trace of self-pity or bitterness, as if they belonged to all of us, he casts his arms wide to the sky and snow mountains, the high sun and dancing sheep, and cries, “Of course I am happy here! It’s wonderful! Especially when I have no choice!
And so in the grieving process, following a significant loss, it can be difficult to make decisions – especially as your universe is experiencing such turbulence.
Not helping maybe can be loved ones who would decide for you, or even write the new script for your life.
In this short description of the arthritic monk captured on precipice in the mountains, one can derive a few truths, though admittedly it might take some additional healing to embrace them.
- Define and accept your new reality
- Cast your arms wide in wonder and thankfulness
- Catch the brightness of the snow on the mountains – even if you reside at the beach
- Reduce – even eliminate – alternatives that rule your life with on the one hand or on the other hand
- Begin the process of writing your life script – reinvent yourself following your loss.
Take a moment to write in your journal those decisions and their alternatives that serve to overwhelm or at least hold you motionless.
Begin the process of reinventing yourself – perhaps writing your story as you see it unfolding now.
Note in your journal those decisions and alternatives that overwhelm or hold you motionless.
Continue to consider who is emerging in the story that is unfolding.
The following are the exercises and activities for this week.
- Exercise #5– Befriending Depression
Think about what tactic you would employ to befriend depression?
Give him a name that connotes a measure of humor, lightheartedness, respect, even acknowledgment.
Conduct an introductory interview with depression as it relates to an area or event in your life that gets you emotionally down.
Be as specific as you can be and ready yourself for a lively dialogue, the major point of which record in your journal.
- Exercise #6 – Going Against the Majority Opinion
As you look on your life, determine when you exhibited determination that might have gone against the majority view.
How did it feel being you, demonstrating your individuality? Have you done it since?
Make a list of three pending decisions —perhaps where you have procrastinated.
These decisions might concern questions about residence, travel, work, or any other matter that has arisen since your loss.
Imagine yourself as the arthritic monk on the mountain precipice and reduce the number of alternatives to the fewest possible.
You might find that the decision process eases in this time of stress.
Capture your thoughts in your journal.
- Exercise #7 – Script Writing
Assume that you are an intimate observer of who you are.
This observer has been charged with the responsibility of describing who you are now – this moment – on the surface.
Yes, you can write about how you look – you might want to look in a mirror to catch your lines, especially around the eyes and mouth; check also the furrows on your brow; look intently into your eyes and don’t fail to mention their color and intensity.
Lead the observer inside to the chamber of your hopes and dreams – even the unrealized ones, or ones just formulating.
Encourage the observer to bring them to the surface in the form of what you want to do, be, explore, share, study, learn, and whatever else that comes to heart.
The observer will write what is revealed.
This will serve as the background information to create the main character – you
who is about to depart on an adventure of the heart.
A word of caution – the individual emerging might be someone that those close to you do not recognize; the characterization might not be how they would have described you.
Remember: This is about you and not about them – however, dear and close they are to you.
Finally, complete your matrix for Week #3.
For more information on Sufis, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sufism